ICEL

ICEL

With Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem

Panoramic view of the Grasberg gold and copper mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. (Image by Richard Jones/Flickr ; Mongabay)

 

  • The Indonesian government has acquired a majority stake in the operator of the Grasberg mine, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines.
  • The $3.85 billion deal has been lauded as a move toward resource sovereignty, but there’s been little mention of who inherits the massive pollution legacy left from decades of mining waste being dumped in rivers and forests.
  • Activists are also calling for clarity in how the acquisition will improve the lives of the indigenous Papuan communities living around the mine, as well as end the long-running conflicts pitting them against the mine operator and security forces.

 

JAKARTA — When the Indonesian government took a controlling stake in the operator of one of the world’s richest gold mines at the end of 2018, proponents hailed the move as a historic step toward national and economic resource sovereignty.

The breathless media coverage of the transaction, which saw the government take a 51 percent stake in PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), previously majority-owned by Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, framed it as the “return” of a prized asset — the Grasberg gold and copper mine — to the Indonesian public after decades of foreign control.

But little was said about the long legacy of toxic pollution from the mine, or how exactly the new arrangement, at a cost of $3.85 billion to Indonesia, would finally bring real benefits to the indigenous people on whose land the mine sits, and who remain among the most impoverished communities in Indonesia.

 

Inheriting a pollution problem

Under the terms of the acquisition, a 41.2 percent stake in PTFI goes to state-owned smelting company PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium, better known as Inalum. A 10 percent stake is held by the government of Papua province, where Grasberg is located. That latter stake, in turn, is managed 60:40 between an Inalum-controlled company and a province-owned firm. Freeport remains the operator of the mine.

But along with ownership in one of the most coveted mines on Earth, Inalum and the Papua government have also inherited a pollution problem stemming from the mining waste, or tailings, churned out by PTFI over decades.

“Does the completion of the divestment deal mean that the environmental problems can be resolved? No,” said Merah Johansyah Ismail, national coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an NGO. Following the takeover, he says, the national and provincial governments will also have to take the brunt of the fallout from the environmental damage caused by the mining operations.

Read moreWith Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem

In Indonesia’s Relentless Infrastructure Push, Taint of Corruption Weighs on Environment

Local houses on Bungkutoko Island in Southeast Sulawesi province, Indonesia. Photo by Kamarudin for Mongabay Indonesia
  • Investigators in Indonesia have arrested the mayor and former mayor of the city of Kendari for allegedly taking bribes in the awarding of a contract to build a land bridge to a new port set to open next year.
  • While the investigation is centered on corruption in the bidding process, activists have urged a thorough look into likely environmental violations, given that the project involves sea reclamation and forest-clearing.
  • The project continues, but has already claimed the livelihoods of the fishing community on whose tiny island the new container port is being built.

 

KENDARI, Indonesia — Like most residents of the tiny island of Bungkutoko in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi province, Mahrudin and Nurhaeti are a fishing family. But their boat has remained beached recently, and the couple stay inside their small house.

The island sits just 100 meters (330 feet) from the Sulawesi mainland, but the strait — and the fishing grounds it represents for the Bungkutoko islanders — is disappearing as developers reclaim the sea to build a road to a new container port being developed on the southeastern tip of the island.

The Kendari Newport is expected to go into operation by next year, replacing the old port in Kendari, the provincial capital. The project is part of the government’s wider “maritime highway” program, meant to revive existing ports and build new ones across the far-flung Indonesian archipelago.

“You can see for yourself, [the sea] has turned into land,” Mahrudin tells Mongabay.

Read moreIn Indonesia’s Relentless Infrastructure Push, Taint of Corruption Weighs on Environment

Activists Fear for Environmental Protection Under Indonesia’s Revised Criminal Code

The fire from the oil spill in Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan Province. Photo courtesy of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Balikpapan.
  • Indonesian lawmakers aim to pass a long-awaited revision of the country’s Criminal Code this month, but already the draft has been widely criticized for rolling back personal freedoms and human rights.
  • Activists say it also threatens to gut existing legislation on environmental protection, effectively going easy on polluters and other environmental violators.
  • Problems identified include raising the bar for proving an environmental offense; more lenient sentencing prescriptions; and failing to hold the responsible parties accountable for environmental crimes.

 

JAKARTA — A highly contentious set of revisions to Indonesia’s Criminal Code threatens to undermine the fight against environmental offenders and polluters, activists warn.

Deliberations on the new draft are in the final stage in parliament, in what proponents are calling a much-needed overhaul and reform of a penal code inherited from Dutch colonial rule more than 70 years ago.

Already the bill has drawn intense criticism for new provisions that, if passed as expected in April, would criminalize consensual non-marital sex, outlaw the promotion of contraceptives, and make it illegal to insult the president or religious leaders, among other points.

But overshadowed by the furor over the looming rollback of personal freedoms and human rights are provisions that appear to weaken existing enforcement articles under the 2009 Environmental Protection Law.

“When we studied the draft, we found out that it’ll heavily affect existing environmental law enforcement and there are going to be many things that can’t be enforced,” said Raynaldo Sembiring, a researcher with the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL).

“While the current law still has some weaknesses, those weaknesses will be amplified further in the new Criminal Code.”

These include making it more difficult to prove an environmental crime has taken place, watering down sentences for environmental violations, and a persistent failure to apportion accountability for these crimes.

Read moreActivists Fear for Environmental Protection Under Indonesia’s Revised Criminal Code